Genius Products // 2007 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // January 6th, 2009
Deadline has a new meaning.
Take equal parts Misery and Swimming with Sharks and shake well with a dash of Shallow Grave, and you've got a vague idea what Ghost Writer, the second directorial effort by the multitalented Alan Cumming, is all about. As those three touchstones should indicate, Ghost Writer is not an easy film to pin down. However, those who are willing to open themselves to the film's dark charms will be rewarded with an especially black comedy with some very memorable performances.
John Vandermark (Alan Cumming, X2: X-Men United) is a music teacher who gives off the air of declining aristocracy. He makes it his business to take young male artists under his wing to support them and teach them to appreciate the finer things in life. His latest project is Sebastian St. Germaine (David Boreanaz, Bones), a struggling writer with an apparent sex addiction. What was supposed to be a few weeks' stay has blossomed into a six-month stretch, and John has had enough. He confronts Sebastian one drunken night, and things take a turn for the surreal as John attempts to extract payment for six months worth of bills.
Ghost Writer is a perfect example of not judging a book (or in this case film) by its cover. The cover art tries to sell Ghost Writer as a supernatural thriller, where David Boreanaz will somehow transmit a novel supernaturally to Alan Cumming. That couldn't be farther from the reality of the film. Instead of a supernatural thriller, Ghost Writer is a black comedy that finds its humor in the over-the-top characters of John and Sebastian. Alan Cumming is note-perfect as a controlling, neurotic aesthete, and David Boreanaz shows his range by playing a shallow, sex-obsessed leech. Their interactions are comedy gold. The plot has very little to do with the supernatural, although there are some ghostly elements. Rather, it's about John's neurotic need to control and Sebastian's lack of scruples. Naturally, everything goes wrong between them, setting up the film's finale in New York City. I hate to give any more away, as the film's plot twists are half the fun.
The other half of the fun is the interplay between John and Sebastian. Alan Cumming is easily one of the most talented actors currently in Hollywood. He can write, direct, act, and sing, pretty much all of which he shows off in Ghost Writer. His portrayal of John is completely unhinged, and it's the kind of campy, almost too much performance that's utterly engrossing. I wasn't sure if David Boreanaz was going to be able to hold his own against Cumming. I mean, his appearances in films (especially The Crow: Wicked Prayer) haven't done much for his reputation, even though I appreciate his acting on the small screen. However, his performance in Ghost Writer is an easy match for Cumming. Because the over-the-top register has already been taken, Boreanaz is free to underplay it a little bit, only releasing his intensity at key points in the film. It's also a wonder that he is brave enough as an actor that he's willing to allow himself to be dressed up in lingerie and have his posterior exposed to the world. I'm sure many of his fans are going to want to see the film just for a peek at his anatomy.
The DVD's technical presentation is strong. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is surprisingly clear given the film's budget, and despite the darkness of much of the video, there are very few noise or compression problems to be seen. The audio is clear and well-balanced, although subtitles are missed at certain points because of Alan Cumming's rapid-fire delivery of many of his lines. Cumming also provides the film's only extra, an audio commentary. Although he comments in his native Scottish accent, Cumming is fairly easy to understand, and the track is brimming with discussion of the film's production. There are some gaps towards the end of the feature, but this is a strong track, and as the only supplement it serves the film well.
Woe be unto anyone who comes to Ghost Writer looking for supernatural thrills and chills. As I said, it is a black comedy, and requires a certain indulgence to be appreciated. The plot doesn't quite hang together, especially the last 20 minutes or so, but the strength of the first hour more than makes up for the oddities of the film's latter half. Those who have no appreciation of literature might find John unintelligible, and those who have anything against men in drag will undoubtedly be turned off by David Boreanaz in his lingerie.
Finally, considering the caliber of the cast involved (besides Alan Cumming and David Boreanaz, we get Anne Heche and Carrie Fisher), it would have been nice to hear a little bit more in their own words and hear how they came to the project.
I think Ghost Writer is destined for cult status. It's got all the right ingredients: a darkly comic plot, crazy characters, and deliciously over-the-top acting. Although this DVD is unlikely to blow anyone away, the film is presented competently. The film is recommended for fans of dark British comedy.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Director's Commentary